By Jillian Hymer
January 26, 2018 (El Cajon) – At a StoryTent pitched outside the El Cajon Library last week, children listened to stories read aloud and enthusiastically chose books to read. It’s all part of Traveling Stories, a local nonprofit that focuses on “inspiring children to learn to read so they can read to learn.” You can bring your children ages 2-12 to weekly readings at three locations in San Diego County, including the El Cajon Library each Wednesday from 3:30-5:30 pm.
A StoryTent is set up where staff members, volunteers and parents all pitch in to “empower kids to outsmart poverty…by helping kids fall in love with reading by the 4th grade,” said Hezhi Naseem, the Field Director.
Since poor literacy skills often lead to low-income jobs, a program that brings joy to reading is important to children’s future. Approximately 32 million adults in the United States can’t read, according to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, the Washington Post reported in 2016. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 50 percent of U.S. adults can’t read a book written at an eighth-grade level.
Emily Moberly founded Traveling Stories after she realized while teaching in Honduras that her “students had never fallen in love with reading! They had grown up without books.” Moberly was able to give her students choices of books; once they found a book they connected with, they began to love reading. So Moberly decided she wanted to give that same experience to students around the United States and the world.
Traveling Stories’ focus is on both literacy and basic money management skills for youngsters. The kids pick a book from the StoryTent to read. They can read it to themselves, aloud to a volunteer or parent, or ask for the book to be read to them. The child is then asked about the subject matter and to summarize the content.
Kids can also discuss a book they read earlier at home or school with a volunteer. Because the kids are outside, they are able to be as loud as they want. With its location next the El Cajon Library, if children are not interested in books from the collection the Story Tent has brought, they can go inside to find something that interests them. There is also an option to read from home if you are unable to attend the Story Tent location.
The organization also focuses on basic money management skills through the use of book bucks. Book bucks are rewards for attending a StoryTent, as well as for every completed picture book or 30 pages read in a chapter book. Kids are allowed to negotiate for a higher amount of book bucks if they believe the book was especially challenging. Book bucks can be used to purchase prizes, ranging from a pencil for one book buck to a skateboard that is 250 book bucks. By helping kids set goals and think about delayed gratification, the program helps develop money management skills.
Naseem said that the most rewarding thing about the program is the relationships that develop between volunteers and the kids, as well as the growth that you see in the children’s reading skills over time. In El Cajon, a community with high poverty rates and many immigrant and refugee children, most kids are regulars, coming to the StoryTent weekly.
You can help out your neighborhood StoryTent by volunteering. Volunteers do not have to be at the site the entire two hours, though most volunteers do stay the full time. Site Managers are also needed to oversee the site and help with set up and clean up. Once trained, volunteers choose their working hours.
Sound interesting? Other San Diego StoryTent locations are in City Heights and Imperial Beach. If you want to learn more about a site near you, sign up to volunteer, or work to bring a StoryTent closer to you, check out their website: www.travelingstories.org .
Jillian Hymer is an intern with East County Magazine and a student at High Tech High International School in San Diego, where she co-founded a writer's cafe.